Friday nights at Wine de Vine are something of a tradition in San Pedro.
That’s the place where newly landed ex-pats and seasoned veterans mingle with locals and visitors for a few hours over reasonably priced glasses of wine and artfully composed trays of cheeses, fruits and crackers.
Yes, Flo and her staff compose a thoughtful list of reds and whites for the night, usually priced around $6-11 per glass.
We have tried some excellent wines there and, more important, made even better friendships over time.
Friday night at Wine de Vine is also where you find out who is coming to the island, who is leaving, who is celebrating a birthday or anniversary, who is not doing well, who needs help and who is on top of the world. You can get the latest news and gossip on crime, restaurants, weather, street repairs, shopping, government and local celebrations. You can get great advice on almost any island issue along with your Chardonnay.
I have come to the conclusion that people who move to tropical islands tend to have very interesting stories about the lives they have lived. Sometimes they are bigger than life but often they are about people who simply took control of their lives, decided they’d had enough of conventional American or European civilization and moved on.
There are great stories inside every person hoisting a glass on a Friday night inside the tightly packed but air-conditioned environs of Wine de Vine. Most important, we have the time and the inclination to listen to each other’s stories.
The truth is, I don’t like wine nearly as much as I like the people who gather to drink it.
Rose, on the other hand, a long-time Napa resident with a rolling front yard filled with vineyards, finds equal pleasures in good wine and good people.
Since arriving on Ambergris Caye our Friday nights have always ended the same. After several glasses of wine and much camaraderie, we say good night to all get on our bicycles and wobble across San Pedro Town in the dark toward home. There, Rose puts the finishing touches to a deliciously pre-prepared dinner and we call it a night.
Except this past Friday.
As we were leaving, a co-conspirator on many an adventure here, Stephen Thompson, invited us to join a few people at a new restaurant that has gained buzz all over the map, Texas BBQ and Steakhouse, on the same Seagrape Drive intersection as Pedro’s Hotel.
After a day of yoga, stand-up paddling, several glasses of wine and the prospect of cycling home in the dark — the idea of a late-night dinner out was doubtful. Even though we’ve been dying to try this place which boasts the meat-forward slogan “Fresh, never frozen.” (OK, that slogan carries a lot more weight on a refrigeration-disabled tropical island than in Midtown Manhattan.)
Stephen upped the ante: “We’re all heading home in the same direction. We’ll just toss your bikes in the back of the golf cart.”
Ok. We’re in.
And what a good call. This was about as close to live theater as we are going to get.
Barely open two weeks, by a West Texas man who professes to have zero knowledge about running a restaurant, Texas BBQ on a Friday night was a sublime study in applied Chaos Theory. There was no one entry point at the counter to place an order. Orders were written on the first available page of a waiters tablet then lost or forgotten. Everyone behind the counter seemed to be responsible for doing everyone else’s job. One guy walked out in complete exasperation. Meals kind of sat there on plates, half fulfilled.
Somewhere, I thought, the hidden cameras of “Hell’s Kitchen” must be recording all this for a spin-off. Just imagine Gordon Ramsay with a Texas drawl.
I ordered a pulled pork plate with corn on the cob and baked beans, only to find out much later that they were out of pulled pork, corn on the cob and baked beans.
To be fair, we were there at the end of an extremely busy Friday when concentration, stamina, tempers and reason had all boiled over into absurdity. Those guys were operating on fumes.
And in this mix, the owner Chris Burke is running around trying to tie up the loose ends on failed orders, maybe a bit too gruffly.
I don’t revel in other people’s pain but I had to stare with the fascination of a pedestrian witnessing a car wreck.
Here’s the thing: Everyone’s meal arrived, more on time than not. (I was able to substitute a very tasty beef brisket.) And the food was delicious. Stephen pronounced his steak the best he’d had in 20 years of living in Belize. Rose had a decent hamburger. Other folks were equally as pleased.
And Chris, frazzled but still Texas-big, turned out to be a pretty congenial guy who may be learning the restaurant ropes in real time but, man, does he know his meats and how to cook them.
He even brought out a huge slab of raw prime, safely sealed in plastic, to show us how really fresh his beef is. Straight from the mainland Mennonite farm to our dinner table.
Others we have spoken to since say the key to great service is to get to Texas BBQ during the off hours, like 2 to 4 p.m. when nobody else is thinking lunch or dinner.
Chris has as many dreams for the future as he has cuts of meat stashed inside the 14-hour smoker. He wants to expand the seating – there is one large table right next to the meat smoker. He plans an incredible breakfast menu. I honestly couldn’t keep up with his dream stream of consciousness.
But, damn, I wish him well.
After dinner Stephen and our newest friends, from Nashville, whose names I lost in all the beef and wine (Sorry!), did indeed port us and our bicycles home.
That’s oddly a mixed blessing for me. I enjoyed hitching a ride home but I dread getting used to or becoming dependent on a golf cart — mine or someone else’s. I like cycling but the rains are coming and as Rose teaches more and more, she’ll need better transportation.
Against my own faulty judgment we may soon be in the hunt for a golf cart, electric or gas I don’t know.
But the real lesson for me this night was to consider the answer “Yes” more often when someone suggests an adventure.
That lesson was applied the next day over a late breakfast at Estel’s — last of the season for us before they closed their doors — when our friend Ed Butterick suggested we all go on our first poker run that night. But first we’ll need to smell the coffee roasting. …
Next up on Doing stuff we haven’t done before: Smell the coffee roasting